Becoming the Leader Who Has All the Good Questions

Think back to being in your early twenties.  If you’re anything like me, I was 99% positive I was the best, brightest worker who was going to set the world on fire.  The 1% of self-doubt that existed was really a non-event.

Each day, I went to work certain that the “powers that be” would recognize my skills and abilities and that would propel me up the ladder faster than everyone else.  It was partially true.  I was fortunate to have bosses that gave me challenging work assignments, the kind that really push you to learn.  But, every few weeks, my boss would hit me with some business question I wasn’t prepared for.  You know the ones, questions like:

  • How is payroll handling taxation for this consultant who is working in Texas, California and New Jersey in the same pay period?
  • Why is the utilization of our senior associates lower than this time last year?
  • If we reduce headcount by 6%, what is the financial impact and any benefits/ pitfalls we should be aware of?

These were all things that were not necessarily in my arsenal (just yet) and that required a bit of researching, learning and regurgitating.  As I look back now, a little older and wiser, I wonder if the boss really even needed the answers.  It may have been a way to challenge me to step up and think, not to keep doing the job duties I already knew.  The duties that made me comfortable.

Fast forward to today and I am now a leader.  I actually took a new job as the VP of HCM Strategy and Product Management at Infor because I DON’T have all the answers.  What I’ve learned over the years is that if I have a job where it comes easy, where I know all the answers, I become stagnant.  Finding the ideal job means that you should only be comfortable with about 70% of what you’re being asked to achieve.  This will give you room to question, to wonder, to create, and to innovate.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

Suffering at Work: The Skeleton That Supports the Flesh of Genius

whiplash-2014-movie-review-car-accident-playing-drums-bloody-andrew-neiman-miles-tellerFor those who know me or listen to me on HR Happy Hour, you’ll know that each year, I rush out and binge on as many of the Oscar-nominated movies as I can.  There is something magnetic about a movie intended to make you really think compared to all the summer blockbuster action movies that are just around the bend.  Well, this time last year, I had the pleasure of watching Whiplash.  It’s a movie about the complex relationship between a student and his conductor of a jazz band.  But more than that, my takeaway then was that it’s about the need to go through harsh feedback and sometimes pain in order to develop.

When I wrote Cringeworthy Feedback: How to Take it and How to Dish it Out, I was so close to seeing the film that it was all I could think about.  Now, a year later and after watching the movie a few more times, I see it’s like an onion and I’m peeling the multitude of layers back to reveal even more significant meaning.  So you see, it’s the perfect Oscar movie because it continues to make me think about what lessons come from examining the relationships.  Dr. Matt Stollak, beloved friend and professor at St. Norbert College, shared an article with me that made me want to revisit some of the themes from Whiplash.  The article he shared was a review by Matt Zoller Seitz called 30 Minutes on Whiplash.  In his article, Matt says:

“This formulation is insidious, cruel, reductive, joyless. It turns the pursuit of artistic excellence into a referendum on the ability to endure shame, rejection, public humiliation, doubt and physical punishment. It’s as singleminded in equating endurance and transcendence as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Nevertheless, as a indicator of future success, the ability to withstand suffering is hard to beat. It might in fact be the skeleton that supports the flesh of genius.”

As I read that, I focused on the suffering.  Do we need to suffer for our art?  Do we need to suffer in order to experience greatness and excellence?

I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about these questions in relation to greatness or excellence at work.  I’ve had a more practical approach and that is if you work hard, it leads to success and excellence at work.  When I really think about those key moments in my life that made a difference in the way my work habits developed, they involve failure.  They involved hardship, doubt, insecurity and many feelings that are negative.  From that, the work that was forged became more meaningful to me because I felt that I really had to work even harder to overcome the obstacles.   I wonder if I would have achieved many of the successes I have without the hardships.

I think not.

So, what about you?  If you have reached levels of excellence in your career that you’re proud of, were you able to get there without suffering?  I’d love to hear your perspectives in the comments….

 

Don’t Ask “Gifted Employees” To STRETCH If You Don’t Mean It

In elementary school I was considered a tenacious student. I was advanced in many of my subjects and became bored with the status quo.  Never afraid to voice my opinion, I was the kid that only had one question.  Why?  I never understood why a teacher had to give me constant direction and I really only liked the teachers that gave me room to think.  I also wanted to lead the other students.  I wanted to organize them for projects and sometimes, for protests.   If you’ve met me, there will be no surprise there because it really still describes my style and approach to life.

giftedI share that story because when you were considered “gifted” back in the 1980’s (and maybe even today), schools would put you in a special program to hopefully provide challenging learning.  Ours was called STRETCH.  I remember going to take the test to determine whether or not I would be accepted into the program.  I was in the third grade.  I recall that one of the tests involved a whole page of circles and the instructions were to use lines to make the circles into something else.  Well, being the creative thinker I am, I didn’t make the “normal” or expected clock or basketball.  I added lines to the outsides of the circles and changed them into lemons and balloons.  I changed them into objects that had circles inside them.  I truly thought “outside the box”, or circle, as it was.  Well, turns out, that was too radical and I was not accepted.  The next year when I went to take the test, I drew all the expected items like clocks and basketballs.  I was quickly accepted into the program.

The significance is that even then, I learned that people really don’t want your creativity.  They say they do.  They may test you and tell you they do.  But, when real creativity comes out, they become afraid and push you back into the box you popped out of.  It’s disheartening.  I’ve seen this happen in every job I’ve ever held.  Employers usually want creative conformity.

So, what does this mean if you’re heart and mind make you a highly creative thinker?  

Well, as I see it, you have choices.  You can conform to the status quo and be unhappy or you can let your creativity shine and maybe not have solid roots planted for very long.  To me, the world needs the risk-takers, the people who push limits and who want to bust up the status quo.  You wouldn’t want  a whole department of us, but one or two may be just the spark you need to turn your department or organization around.  At any rate, the lesson is not to ask employees to be highly creative if you don’t mean it and don’t plan to support it.

What do you think?  Are you highly creative and if so, how has that impacted you at work?  If you’re not, how has hiring highly creative people worked in your organization?  Did they make it long term?  I’d love to hear your comments.

HR Happy Hour #229: Lessons from The Academy of Rock with Peter Cook

HR Happy Hour 229 – Lessons from The Academy of Rock with Peter Cook

Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

Guest: Peter Cook, Founder, Human Dynamics

LISTEN HERE

This week on the show, Steve and I were joined by Peter Cook, who leads Human Dynamics, offering Business and Organisation Development. He also delivers keynotes around the world that blend business intelligence with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock.

We chat with Peter about the impact of music on our success and learning in business.  We also talk about his new book (coming out in early 2016) called  Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise.  Peter shares his stories from a lifetime in business and experiences with many well-known musicians.

You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or by using he widget player below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through)

This was a really fun and interesting show and I hope you will check it out.

As a reminder, you can find the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes and all the major podcast apps for iOS and Android. Just search for ‘HR Happy Hour’ and add the show to your playlists and you will never miss a show. And follow the HR Happy Hour Show on Twitter – @HRHappyHour.

What’s Killing Creativity in our Students?

HRevolution Official Logo blackIt’s been a week since #HRevolution 2014 wrapped and I’m just now coming down from the high of being around such brilliant people.  It is always the one event that I can’t write about immediately because there is so much information to process.  While there is great value in each session, one that touched me personally was “Sally Can’t Doodle and it’s Your Fault” led by Lois Melbourne.

Lois, Chief Story Officer at My Future Story and thought leader in the industry, has embarked on a career path where she helps students learn about various industries and careers.  This is something Lois has been passionate about for many years and she’s now putting that passion and her knowledge to use by writing books targeted at students.  These books will help them as they determine which career their studies will support.

In this session at HRevolution, several discussion topics emerged:

  • Do schools kill creativity in our students?  Lois encouraged all attendees to watch the TedX talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the topic as a way to get them thinking.  Discussion centered around the current state of the public school system in the US and whether it needs to change.  There was mention that US businesses need to partner with the school system in order to ensure that students are prepared to enter the workforce.  Another discussion was around the fact that we do not have a “business system” in the US so it is hard to partner with the school system.  Since each organization has to decide whether to reach out to schools, then come up with it’s own approach on how to partner, there is a lack of consistency.
  • Do jobs currently posted as “degree required” really need to have applicants with a degree?  Several in the group mentioned that it’s a way for recruiters to single people out of the hiring process.  Others started naming jobs that are traditionally degree-required that would not have to be.
  • What are Maker Faires and what is their impact?  When Lois mentioned Maker Faires, most attendees were not familiar with them so this was a definite learning point.  According to their website, Maker Faires are, “Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.”  I’d encourage you to check them out.
  • What does it means to have tenacity?  She then talked about tenacious inventors and how without them, we would not have many of the innovative, creative solutions and products we have today.  This made me wonder how people become tenacious.  Is it a characteristic you’re born with or can we learn tenacity?

All in all, the session was nothing short of amazing.  It’s not often that I walk out of a conference with more questions spinning in my head then I walked in with.  It’s an energizing feeling.  I’ve spent the last several days using my free time to listen to the TedX talk and to research more about our education system and what we can do to find a new way to prepare students for the future work world.

I don’t have many answers yet, but I know that these themes will emerge in my writing as I think through them.  What do you think?

Is our current education system adequate for preparing our students?  If changes are needed, what needs to change?

Do our children even know how to be creative anymore?

How can we send our children through the same system we went through, yet expect different results?

Share your thoughts in the comments.  I’d love to keep this conversation going.  

*Special thanks to our sponsors: Mercer, Symbolist and Small Improvements for making HRevolution possible and for all your personal and professional support.

 

Are You Ready to Disrupt YOU?

There are only a handful of times in life that can be magical, disruptive, important moments. It could be a dramatic moment involving a birth or the loss of a loved one.  It could be one of those moments where someone says the exact thing you needed at the exact moment you needed it, good or bad.  I recently had one of those moments.

Layout 1

Last week I was honored to deliver the keynote for the SilkRoad Connections conference in Chicago.  (Thank you to the folks at SilkRoad for the opportunity and their hospitality).

As I walked through the empty ballroom early that morning, I felt the twinges of nervousness. As someone who often speaks publicly, I found this shocking and delightfully satisfying. The reason my nerves were at attention was not the event, nor the size of the crowd.  It was the fact that I was sharing material that was personal — my personal story of disruption that led to life changes.  I knew I wanted to talk to attendees about personal disruption.

Disruption often gets a bad rap because it invokes thoughts of people or events that shake things up in a negative way.  I was going to talk about how disruption, whether negative or positive, can have a very positive learning outcome. To do this, I shared my story and I have never felt so vulnerable. It was almost impossible to keep my emotions in check, but I did. I then related it to the personal disruption of the audience. By the time I left the stage an hour later, something very special had occurred.  I had created my own disruption. I will never again approach public speaking in the same way.

Disruption can be a valuable influencer in terms of taking your professional or personal life to the next level.  It inspires us, even forces us, to make changes that lead to new opportunities. This is critical in any business role, especially human resources where we tend to be a little more cautious about risk.  Knowing that we are the gatekeepers of legal and compliance issues for an organization, we spend much of our time reacting to organizational issues. This leaves us scrounging for time to spend on strategic planning and leaves virtually no time to focus on our own skill development.

Until … disruption.

Proactively creating a disruption in your thinking can be just the spark that you need…

– See the rest of this post at: Human Resources Today blog

12 Minutes: Learn Social or Business During Your Drive Time

trafficI took my car to my dealership this week for a Xylon treatment.  It’s one of those things that is great to have done, but the hassle of having to drop my car off, on a weekday at 9:00 am, and pick up a rental car was something I didn’t look forward to.

The dealership had great service and the rental car was ready for me, but the idea of having to drive a car I’m not familiar with as the forecast called for snow and ice didn’t make me feel very confident.  At any rate, about twenty minutes after arriving, I was on my way in a 2011 Cadillac DTS. Sweet ride…..but felt larger than driving a bus.  This was not exactly my idea of fun.

So, away I go in my caddy and I’m trying to find something on the XM radio.  Only, it’s not activated.  I try to remember some local stations so that I can find something good to listen to on my way to work.  I settle in on a station that has a song I know, but it quickly ends.  Now it’s commercial time.  I sat through twelve minutes of commercials before the next song!

I don’t have time to sit through twelve minutes of commercials.

I felt like I was completely wasting my time.  I sat there cursing the local radio and hating the fact I couldn’t get any news or information of value.  That’s when I realized that there are many people who still don’t purchase their radio experience.  They listen to local radio.  These are some of the same people who argue that they don’t have time to learn social media, to read a blog, to learn a new tool or technology.  But like me that day, they get those same twelve minutes stolen from them all the time.

Making Good Use of Your Drive Time

 

  • Download podcasts that you can listen to on your iPod or other device.  Shows such as HR Happy Hour can be found on BlogTalk radio.  You can learn about the latest HR, recruiting and leadership information.
  • Listen to audio books that relate to self improvement or business acumen.
  • Use your smartphone to listen to “how to” videos on YouTube.


What are some other ways to spend your time in the car to make better use of it than listening to commercials?  Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

4 Ways To Achieve Growth: Messy and Painful

“Growth is messy and painful.” ~ William Tincup

Every day I focus on trying to do things the right way, for the right reason.  The goal is to succeed each and every time on projects, in handling issues, or creating new and innovative ideas.  I get frustrated when I hear about people who want to celebrate losing; people who believe that mistakes are not only worth sharing but should be shouted from the rooftop.  Last week I learned that while I may never want to publicly celebrate mistakes, I certainly don’t give myself time, nor permission, to make them.  That is a shame because without failing big sometimes, people never learn and grow.

Achieving Growth

I spent some time with a friend last week and he said something that stuck with me.  He said that growing is messy and painful.  What does that mean?  Well, whenever things are going well, you’re not being stretched.  It feels great in the moment to be in control and have things fall into place.  In fact, it’s that state that most people strive for.  The problem is that no one ever learns from doing everything well.  We learn when we go through struggle, practice and yes, mistakes. 

  • Don’t play it safe all the time-  Next time you’re in a situation where you know you disagree with the way the status quo is heading, speak up.  Disagree.  Make it known that you have an opinion that is not the “norm”.
  • Step up to lead something you don’t know much about-  Some of my best learning came when I took a chance and led projects that I had never led before.  It feels scary and at times, like your hair is on fire, but what a great way to push yourself!
  • Attend meetings outside your area of expertise– This is a great way to get creative juices flowing.  When you hear how a department in another part of your company approaches situations and challenges, you’ll find ways to take that learning back to your own department.  It will be messy because it won’t fit precisely, but it will push you (and your team) to think differently.
  • Get honest-  Find a handful of people you can trust to be completely candid with you.  First, this will feel risky because  you are sharing parts of you with them that you usually keep private (your fears, your losses, etc.).  The growth comes from the candor with which they share how you can improve.  It may hurt.  It may seem harsh.  In the end, you’ll come out ahead.

What techniques do you use to grow and develop?  Share them in the comments.